Super BusinesswomanIn such a tight labour market, created by a: slow economy, mass redundancies and employers becoming increasingly selective, the number of suitable job opportunities is dwindling and, as a result, applicants are having to apply for jobs outside their comfort zone

Specifically, more experienced and senior candidates are having to step down and apply for more junior roles, for which they are over qualified. A study by the Internal Trade Union Confederation in 2006 found that 23% of workers in the US considered themselves overqualified for their job they held.

But, even though over qualified workers are very much a reality in today’s economy, there remains a negative attitude around over qualified workers, which is that they should ordinarily be rejected as they will be: too expensive, will get bored, become disengaged and leave prematurely. But, is this what actually happens in reality?

The answer to this controversial question lies within the findings of several studies in this area, which provide insights into the link between being overqualified and an individual’s corresponding performance level and satisfaction level.

For example, a study from the University of Kent has shown that ‘real’ over qualification (when it is accompanied by under utilization of skills), and not ‘formal over qualification’,  does actually lead to job dissatisfaction.

Another study from the University of Haifa in Israel also found that ‘cognitive’ over qualification, (not formal over qualification), was associated with job dissatisfaction, but interestingly they found that it was only weakly associated to job performance, so overqualified job applicants have a more negative attitude, but they do not necessarily under perform.

In fact, two other studies have shown that overqualified workers actually outperform their colleagues. For example, a study of 5,000 American adults in jobs with low cognitive demands, such as garbage collector and car washers, by Dr Nyberg published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that cognitively overqualified applicants stay longer and perform better than the correctly qualified. Another study of 240 workers in a Turkish apparel chain reported similar results.

Many of you may have wondered about the legality of rejecting candidates because they are overqualified. Well, since over qualified applicants are generally also more likely to be older there is a chance the applicant could perceive it as age discrimination — for which there is protection for job applicants over 40 in the US – and make a legal case of it.

But, in reality, rejecting candidates based on over qualified status has been shown to be perfectly legal by a US federal court ruling which upheld the New London, Connecticut, police department’s rejection of a high IQ candidate on the basis that they would probably become dissatisfied and quit.

So, where does that leave recruiters? Should you hire overqualified candidates? Well, it seems that cognitively overqualified candidates are prone to experiencing greater job dissatisfaction, but they are likely to outperform the correctly qualified and they are likely to stay just as long if not longer.

This suggests to me that if the candidate can demonstrate that they can psychologically manage any potential dissatisfaction without disrupting other staff, then their impact on the organization is likely to be as positive if not more positive than the correctly qualified.

So, yes, in general recruiter’s should hire over-qualified applicants and it should not serve as a rejection/selection criteria in its own right, as it is not especially valid.

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